Just now I was inappropriately joking with a friend about drunk frat boys kissing rattlesnakes and how my hope as a parent is to raise two children who don’t kiss any rattlesnakes. Then it occurred to me, this is in fact my greatest wish as a parent. I’m not talking literal rattlesnakes, of course (though that should go without saying). I’m talking the metaphorical ones.
I’ve spent a lifetime kissing rattlesnakes. I’ve been trained that that’s just what a proper girl does. She opens wide and lets herself get poisoned time after time. Her job – my job – is to just keep doing it. It doesn’t matter if it hurts, if it kills you. “You’ll build up a resistance, dear,” they say. “You’ll get to like the taste of venom on your tongue,” they promise. “You might even turn into snake, if you’re lucky,” they coo. But I never did. I never did like the sensation of being bit, I never did get used to being stung, even when I could see it coming a mile away. And, despite my efforts to conform, my desperate attempts to please, I never did shapeshift. Well, not into a snake anyway.
It’s funny, in a way, because the past few months have been all about the snake for me. I live in the southwest, in a dry, coastal scrubland. We have more than our fair share of the reptiles here. I saw one when we first moved down and then nothing for a couple of years. I suppose I should count myself blessed. Then, three months ago, they started showing up: a huge, dead rattler in the jaws of my dog; a tiny gopher snake on the trail; another dead rattler in a neighbor’s driveway; snakes in dreams, on cards, on signs. I know enough of them to know they signify death and rebirth, radical or spiritual transformation, and even, in some cultures, wisdom and healing (caduceus anyone?). I love this symbology of the snake and that’s what’s come to mind each time one has appeared lately. And yet, there’s that other image of them too.
The deadly snakes I’ve kissed have been the ones that told me not only to be something I’m not, but that I never was what I truly knew myself to be. The ones who whispered that that’s not what good girls do. The ones who made me think only of financial security and not of passions or joy. They are the ones who told me I needed to be more masculine to be successful in my profession, less whatever it is that I am. They are the ones who seek to gag me, to numb me, to transform me into some smaller, more manageable version of themselves.
I’ve read more parenting blogs, articles, and books than I care to note. Many of them advise NOT to tell your children to follow their hearts, their bliss, their passions, whatever you want to call it, because, hey, they’ll be living in your basement for the rest of their lives not earning a damn dime. They had brilliant, wonderful suggestions and advice up to that point. But then their forked tongues came out and they bit, hard. Only, I’m immune to the venom now.
You can believe that is exactly what I will tell my children to do. Concerns about “financial security” have landed us in a soulless, heartless world that completely ignores the fact our planet is on fire and gasping for breath. It ignores the fact we are putting ourselves squarely in the crosshairs of extinction for the sole purpose of a dollar. Or a dollar menu. I want more people living this life with heart, according to their heart. I want people who are going to use all of that heat in them to turn this shit around. I want people who aren’t out to numb and control everyone around them under the guise of it being what the good folks do. I am so tired of the good life. I want my kids to have the great, impassioned, fired-up life. And so I’m going to advise them to skip the snake-kissing. It will be a whole lot less painful in the long run.